For Pete's Sake

Johnny Damon says losing years with Royals were ‘unbearable’ but fueled later success

Former Royals Johnny Damon, Carlos Beltran and Jermaine Dye return to KC

Former Kansas City Royals outfielders Johnny Damon, Carlos Beltran and Jermaine Dye were invited to take part in a 50th Anniversary recognition at Kauffman Stadium before the start of the game between the Royals and New York Yankees on May 19, 2018.
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Former Kansas City Royals outfielders Johnny Damon, Carlos Beltran and Jermaine Dye were invited to take part in a 50th Anniversary recognition at Kauffman Stadium before the start of the game between the Royals and New York Yankees on May 19, 2018.

The Royals averaged 90 losses in each of outfielder Johnny Damon’s first five full seasons in the majors leagues, and that lack of success took its toll.

Damon wrote about the team’s struggles as he looked back his career in an essay for The Players’ Tribune. The headline is “Letter To My Younger Self,” and Damon offers advice to himself as a child.

Much of the essay is about helping the Red Sox win the 2004 World Series, the franchise’s first in 88 years. But Damon also writes about his time with the Royals and how difficult it was on him.

“You’re going to discover a knack for buying baseball cards and flipping them for a profit. It certainly beats your other hustle selling sunglasses at SeaWorld in Orlando,” Damon wrote.

“But George Brett’s Topps 1975 rookie card? Nope. That one’s not going anywhere. George is your guy. A hustle player who can hit every kind of pitch.

“So of course you’ll just about lose your mind with excitement when the Kansas City Royals pick you in the MLB draft out of high school. It’s hard to imagine anything better than getting the chance to play for your favorite team growing up. It’ll feel like you’ve reached the peak — what could be better?”

The Royals took Damon with the 35th overall pick in the 1992 draft, and he wrote that things pretty much went downhill after that.

“But Johnny, what you’re going to learn is that losing sucks,” he wrote.

“And, man, your first five seasons in the majors, you’re going to lose games in some remarkable ways. You’re even going to be part of the first team in baseball history with more blown saves than successful saves. I know that sounds bad, but living through it will be unbearable. Losing suuuuucks.

“And over the course of five years, even though you’ll develop all of the skills you need to be one of the best players in the game, that constant losing will eat at you.”

When Damon was playing, the Royals never won more than 77 games in a full season. Their best finish was third palce in the AL Central in 1998 when they were 16 1/2 games out of first.

The Royals twice finished in last place in Damon’s five full seasons, and the 1999 team had more blown saves (30) than saves (29), as he mentioned.

But Damon’s essay about his time in Kansas City ended on a bit of a positive note.

“But that frustration and sense of failure you feel? It’s important. In a weird way, it’s actually good for you,” Damon wrote. “This is a majority failure sport. Nobody succeeds at the plate more than they fail. Your best swing can turn into an out and your worst swing into a double. So even when you lose, if you keep the right mindset, you’ll never be defeated. You’re always going to remember the feeling of losing during those early years, and it’s going to make your desire to succeed that much stronger.

“In order to win, you’ll need to move across the country. You’ll need to learn new habits. And you’ll need to meet Jason Giambi out in Oakland.”

Damon was dealt to the A’s as part of a seven-player, three-team trade in January 2001 and Oakland made the playoffs that fall. Damon later was part of World Series winners with the Red Sox (2004) and the Yankees (2009).

He writes about those experiences, and you can read about that here.

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